Have you heard that saying “You don’t know what you don’t know”? For a would-be first-time RV buyer, truer words were never spoken. Deciding on what type of RV to buy for your lifestyle, budgeting for the extra expenses, emptying the grey water tank (if you even know what that is!), learning how to back into a campsite space – the list of things RV owners need to know is seemingly endless. While it might appear daunting at first, it’s clearly achievable when you consider the millions of happy new RV owners traveling the roads this year!
I’m a new RV owner that jumped into the lifestyle with a wealth of things still to learn. Like everyone else in 2020, I had to figure out new ways of working and traveling. Since globetrotting wasn’t an option, my husband and I bought a small travel trailer and are learning the RV world ropes. Getting advice from fellow first-timers before buying an RV was invaluable, so I’m doing it now for you!
Kimberly and Scott Hamilton, who live in Chicago, Illinois, bought a 2019 Winnebago Minnie 2606RL this past May from Airstream & Winnebago of Chicago. Tiffany Bonner bought a 2019 Winnebago Travato 59G, Class B motorhome last year from a dealership close to home. Crystal Tuttle and her husband bought their Wildwood FSX 196BH, 23 feet Travel Trailer this year entirely online at Campers Inn in Kings Mountain, NC.
Here’s their best advice for buying an RV for the first time:
Name One Thing You Think a First-Time Buyer Should Absolutely Do Before Buying an RV?
“Spend a lot of time in specific Facebook group forums for the type of RV you want to buy,” says Kim Hamilton. “There is an enormous amount of information that will help you navigate the ins and outs of RVs and RV life in general. These forums are worth every minute you spend there. Also, check YouTube. You’ll find reviews, instructional and troubleshooting videos that have saved many owners a lot of time and costly mistakes.”
Tiffany Bonner says first-timers should, “Research, Research, Research. Learn as much as you can about the type of RV you want before making that investment. There are so many options to choose from, so it helps to be really knowledgeable about the different RVs on the market before you head to the dealership. The research helped boost my confidence, especially as a woman. When I walked into a dealership, I knew the right questions to ask and I felt like I was taken more seriously when the salespersons noticed I knew more than they did!”
“Read and research thoroughly. Know what you are going to tow with and how much weight it is rated for towing (if you are going with a trailer option). Once you know that you can start to streamline your shopping options. How comfortable are you on with parking and maneuvering long trailers/vehicles?” adds Crystal Tuttle. “If you’re not used to it, then you may want to look for shorter options. These two things helped me pare down the ton of possibilities and start really looking at the differences between units. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the selection out there!”
Advice for Picking Up Your RV at the Dealership?
“During the walk-through at the dealership, they explained how everything worked, but it’s impossible to remember it all,” says Tiffany. “Videotape your walkthrough, so you have a quick reference tool available when you don’t have Wi-Fi at a campground to research for an answer.”
Crystal says, “We are fortunate to live in an area with lots of RV dealers within a two-hour radius. Since we were shopping in the middle of the Covid-19 outbreak, we did most of our shopping and discussion online and via text or phone with our sales rep. By the time we actually went to see the unit in person, we were ready to start the purchasing paperwork! All in all, I think we only had to visit the dealer two times, bringing it home on the second visit. Shopping online was a great experience. It allowed us to broaden our search and do most of the research before we settled on a unit that was a perfect fit for us.”
What Do You Wish You Had Known Then That You Know Now?
“I wish I knew more about the specifics around the electrical components before I drove it off the dealership parking lot, like the heating system, for example,” says Tiffany. “After I bought my van, I camped in it for a week before returning home. I almost froze the first night because I didn’t quite know how the heating system worked. It was a cold lesson learned.”
Kimberly and Scott have a list of things they wish they’d know earlier, including options to stabilize their trailer; how to reduce the rocking motion earlier; the weekly and sometimes midweek ongoing care and maintenance of your grey and black water tanks; avoiding sensor blocks; realizing the limitations of water when not plugged in; being more efficient with the storage space; the time it takes to buy what you need and even knowing what you need!
What Sort of Things Did You Buy to Outfit Your RV?
The Hamiltons purchased a new grill, outdoor shades for the awning, bedding, command hooks (for everything), unbreakable dishes, lockbox for keys, extra Chocks, wasp vent covers, hand-held vacuum, tool kit, foldable wagon, camping chairs, an outdoor rug, lots of bug spray, chemicals to treat the tanks, back up propane tank, picnic table covers, hoses for the water hook up. Scour YouTube for videos on packing up your RV and ask fellow RVers what they bring.
“We bought things like leveling blocks, chemicals, water pressure regulators and sewage hoses,” says Crystal. “I was aware of them but not how huge the selection or the range of prices. It involved a lot more research to choose the right tools for us. A big tip: If your trailer doesn’t come with a spare tire or mount, get one. It’s just something I should have thought of, but being this is the first time it totally slipped by me. You know to ask for it in a car or truck, but just not with a camper. Lesson learned!” My tip: Check GoRVing.com’s “RV Essentials” checklist!
Any Last Words of Advice for a First-Time RV Buyer?
“Do your homework! Plan for the unexpected, put a budget together and ask a lot of questions, says Kimberly. “Be kind to your RV neighbors, take advantage of the great outdoors and enjoy!”
Tiffany adds, “Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to ask even more questions. Then ask a few more! Knowledge is key. If you’re a single lady out there wanting to purchase an RV: Do it! There’s a ton of us out here traveling solo in motorhomes and trailers. We love it and you will too!”
Crystal says, “Make sure you get contact numbers and business cards from those folks if you do buy; more than likely some little question you’d want to ask will pop up once you get your new friend home!”
My advice? Go camping first! Rent an RV or a cabin at a campground and ask your neighbors what they like about their motorhome or trailer. You’ll see every kind of RV out there being used, which is a very different experience from the dealership. Lastly, just do it. Don’t let the dream of owning that RV and hitting the road slip by. An incredible new adventure awaits!
Kim Foley MacKinnon is a Boston-based food and travel writer. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, AAA Horizons, Forbes Travel Guide, Travel + Leisure, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among others. She has also written and contributed to several guidebooks. Find her at www.escapewithkim.com or @escapewithkim on Twitter and Instagram.